With a familiar campaign cheer bringing the Kenyan crowds to their feet, Hellen Atieno joins her colleagues and spins the catchy song at a political rally in the lakeside city of Kisumu.
Don’t expect the 23-year-old to vote.
“I only came to the rally because there is money. I hope there will be something,” Atieno told AFP, referring to Kenya’s widespread practice of offering freebies to potential voters.
Currently jobless, the former fishmonger says she is so fed up with the country’s insular political class that she plans to stay home when Kenya votes on August 9 in parliamentary and presidential polls.
She is not alone.
The East African economic powerhouse is among the youngest countries in the world – three quarters of Kenyans are under the age of 34, according to government figures.
Many have no interest in participating in an electoral process that is widely described as corrupt and pointless.
The number of young registered voters has decreased by five percent since the 2017 poll, in contrast to people over 35, whose numbers have increased, Kenya’s electoral commission announced last month.
More than 22 million Kenyans are eligible to take part in this year’s polls, with young people accounting for less than 40 percent of that number, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said.
Politicians have responded with a freebie bonanza, offering cash, umbrellas, shirts, caps and even packets of maize flour – a nutritional staple – to anyone who attends their rallies.
Bribery is not new to Kenyan politics – an electoral offense punishable by a fine of up to two million Kenyan shillings ($17,000) and/or a six-year prison term.
But escalating food inflation – exacerbated by the war in Ukraine – and an unemployment crisis have boosted the appetite for such leaflets.
According to census figures published in 2020, approximately five million young Kenyans were out of work.
Brian Denzel has spent the last few weeks hitting one closure after another, eager to pocket the money on offer, although the 19-year-old butcher has no plans to vote and reckons he’s not in politics only “dirty game”.
“Who will refuse the free money that will be given to them?” he said, while waiting to collect 200 shillings ($1.70) from a local politician.
Kenya’s Interior Minister, Fred Matiang’i, told reporters on Wednesday that banks were running short of 100 and 200 shilling notes “because politicians are bribing the villagers”.
In the months leading up to the polls, observers suggested the youth factor could help heal Kenya’s often toxic tribal politics, with younger voters less likely to vote along ethnic lines.
However, although young Kenyans are less tribal-mindedly, they also lack “ideological stability”, Kisumu-based political analyst Francis Owuor told AFP.
“That conviction that usually comes with the political process is not there,” Owuor said.
“Everyone is to blame for this, both the people and the leaders, but again the leaders are the duty holders, so they have to take a lot of the blame.”
Thirty years after the emergence of multi-party democracy in Kenya, many are disillusioned by constant battles against the credibility of polls and disputed election results.
This year’s presidential vote is largely a two-horse race between Deputy President William Ruto, 55, and Raila Odinga, the 77-year-old veteran opposition leader now backed by the ruling party.
If both leaders accept the results, it will be the country’s first since 2002.
Amina Soud, manager of voter education at the IEBC, told AFP that the election watchers were “concerned” by the growing disinterest shown by young people towards the political process.
“We did a lot of mobilization during registration using all these tools and still voter apathy was too high,” said Soud, referring to the IEBC’s social media push to enlist new voters.
But there is little hope for a generation of Kenyans facing renewed inflation, corruption and unemployment through campaigns on TikTok or comics in Sheng – a local slang popular with urban youth.
“I don’t think I’m going to vote,” 27-year-old salon owner Irene Awino Owino told AFP.
“I’m not interested, because the government prioritizes themselves over us.”
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